The Girl in the Road

The Girl in the Road

3.2 5
by Monica Byrne

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A debut that Neil Gaiman calls “Glorious. . . . So sharp, so focused and so human.” The Girl in the Road describes a future that is culturally lush and emotionally wrenching.

Monica Byrne bursts on to the literary scene with an extraordinary vision of the future.  In a world where global power has shifted east and revolution is

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A debut that Neil Gaiman calls “Glorious. . . . So sharp, so focused and so human.” The Girl in the Road describes a future that is culturally lush and emotionally wrenching.

Monica Byrne bursts on to the literary scene with an extraordinary vision of the future.  In a world where global power has shifted east and revolution is brewing, two women embark on vastly different journeys—each harrowing and urgent and wholly unexpected.

When Meena finds snakebites on her chest, her worst fears are realized: someone is after her and she must flee India.  As she plots her exit, she learns of the Trail, an energy-harvesting bridge spanning the Arabian Sea that has become a refuge for itinerant vagabonds and loners on the run.  This is her salvation.  Slipping out in the cover of night, with a knapsack full of supplies including a pozit GPS, a scroll reader, and a sealable waterproof pod, she sets off for Ethiopia, the place of her birth.

Meanwhile, Mariama, a young girl in Africa, is forced to flee her home.  She joins up with a caravan of misfits heading across the Sahara. She is taken in by Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. They are trying to reach Addis Abba, Ethiopia, a metropolis swirling with radical politics and rich culture.  But Mariama will find a city far different than she ever expected—romantic, turbulent, and dangerous.

As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama’s fates are linked in ways that are mysterious and shocking to the core.

Written with stunning clarity, deep emotion, and a futuristic flair, The Girl in the Road is an artistic feat of the first order: vividly imagined, artfully told, and profoundly moving.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
★ 03/01/2014
This spectacular and intriguing book of parallel journeys takes place in the near future and the present day; two narratives that are seemingly unrelated arrow together in a shattering climax. The future quest is that of Meena, escaping from a troubled history by embarking on an impossible odyssey across a floating wave-energy bridge connecting India and Africa. The contemporary Miriama is a child slave fleeing from Mauritania across continental Africa to Ethiopia. Both are running from violent pasts; both are in denial about the truth behind their lives. VERDICT Novelist and playwright Byrne's debut is enthralling on many levels. Meena's story provides a detailed vision of the technological and ecopolitical future of Africa and Asia, while Miriam's account depicts the tenuous experience of a powerless child in Africa. The incorporation of evolving views of gender with reference to the Hijra transgender experience in India and the Wodabe Gerewol mate selection ritual (made famous in Werner Herzog's film Herdsmen of the Sun) propel this novel into the stratosphere of artistic brilliance.—Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos Lib., CA
Publishers Weekly
The Trail, or Trans-Arabian Linear Generator, reaches from Bombay to Africa, resembles a “pontoon bridge,” and in the year 2068 generates a vast amount of energy from both the sea and the sun. In this debut novel, it also becomes a means for Meena, a tough young woman living in India, to travel to Ethiopia, where she was born and where her parents were killed soon thereafter. Byrne builds an elaborate future with complex geopolitical realities and a fascinating scientific illustration of the Trail and its power. She also has a clear handle on everything from Hindu rituals to Addis Ababa side streets. Unfortunately, the concepts aren’t enough to bring Meena to life, or perhaps it’s the ideas that suffocate the characters. With overbearing first-person exposition, violent melodrama, and exaggerated sexual escapades, the book never quite coalesces into the sum of its many parts. Additionally, the narrative relies on alternating chapters featuring another story thread—an escaped slave girl, Mariama, heading east toward India as Meena travels west. The two plot strands eventually intertwine, but instead of illuminating one another, they contribute to an overall sense of discombobulation. Agent: Sam Stoloff, Frances Goldin Literary Agency. (May)
From the Publisher
“Sci-fi has long claimed to be the multicultural literature of the future. This is the real thing. . . . Described with verve and conviction. . . . A new sensation, a real achievement.” —Wall Street Journal

“Dizzying. . . . Primal and indelible. . . . Delivered with all the vivid, haunting poignancy of a vision quest.”—

“Vividly imagined.” —Los Angeles Times

“[A] sci-fi smash hit. . . . Byrne crafts a gorgeous future world. . . . Elaborate and beguiling.”—Duke Chronicle

“It’s transfixing to watch Monica Byrne become a major player in sci-fi with her debut novel: so sharp, so focused and so human. Beautifully drawn people in a future that feels so close you can touch it, blended with the lush language and concerns of myth. It builds a bridge from past to future, from East to West. Glorious stuff.”  —Neil Gaiman, author of The Ocean at the End of the Lane
“Relentlessly kinetic. . . . [The narrative] captures the sheer surface speed and exhilaration of living in the changing contemporary world. . . . A ceaseless storm of matter and energy.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

The Girl in the Road brims with ambition...Inventive… Fearless …[A] wild, hallucinatory ride.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“In unadorned, clearly descriptive prose, Byrne moves briskly from scene to scene. . . . A deeply felt, troubling and memorable story.” Indy Week (Durham, NC)
“Engrossing, thought-provoking. . . . [Byrne] weaves the elements of science fiction and speculative fiction with myth, spirituality and philosophical speculation, all while creating a page-turning story. The Girl in the Road is meant to be enjoyed, pondered, and re-read.” —Durham Herald-Sun
“Impressive. . . . The one thing no reader will doubt is Byrne’s place as a strong new voice in science fiction.” —Shelf Awareness
“This science fiction tale of future Africa and Asia has all the escape you could want — new technology, a murder mystery, two interwoven narratives — plus the cultural commentary inherent in the best of speculative fiction. Byrne’s characters are complicated, a little lost, and well worth rooting for. With a debut like this, you’ll want to keep an eye on her.” —Brooklyn Daily
“Byrne, whose creative life is clearly churning, has earned broad exposure for her debut novel, and with support from mentors such as author Neil Gaiman, she’s on her own journey – as a writer, defying literary convention and shaping worlds out of uncomfortable truths.” –Raleigh News & Observer

“Gripping. . . . Easily one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.”
“Stunning. . . . More than a few surprises await Meena and Mariama and the reader as story lines converge in a surprising, gratifying climax.” —Booklist
“Spectacular and intriguing. . . . Enthralling on many levels. . . . The incorporation of evolving views of gender . . . propel this novel into the stratosphere of artistic brilliance.” —Library Journal (starred)
“The most inventive tale to come along in years. . . . The writing is often brilliant, as Byrne paints wholly believable pictures of worlds and cultures most Westerners will never know. . . . Engrossing and enjoyable.” —Kirkus
“Byrne is a science writer and graduate of MIT, but her insight into our near future is as much informed by her extensive travels as her grasp of science. . . . A book you will certainly be hearing a lot about in 2014.” —Guardian (UK)
“Monica Byrne’s vision of India and Africa as an ever-changing maelstrom of language and culture, technology and sexuality is utterly captivating. As Meena and Mariama chase each other’s echoes, Byrne strips away their preconceptions (and ours as well) through that most dangerous of human impulses: our need to understand the past, and to decide our own future.  An electrifying debut.” —Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni
“Monica Byrne has written the road trip novel you didn't know you were waiting for. A genuine and extraordinary journey. Take it.” —John Scalzi, author of Redshirts
The Girl in the Road is a brilliant novel, vivid, intense, and fearless with a kind of savage joy.  These journeys—Meena’s across the Arabian Sea and Mariama’s across Africa—are utterly unforgettable.” —Kim Stanley Robinson, author of 2312 and Red Mars

Kirkus Reviews
Byrne's debut novel may be the most inventive tale to come along in years. Decades in the future, two young women begin their separate journeys in parallel storylines: Mariama travels east across the Sahara, while Meena walks west from India to Djibouti on a trail that crosses the Arabian Sea. That high-tech construction is designed to harness the sea's energy and is technically off-limits to the public, but a few people travel on it and never return. Have they all perished? Meena will take the risk, since she feels compelled to find the place where her parents were murdered, perhaps to confront their murderer; Mariama's goal is less clear. That the two women will eventually meet is obvious, but the outcome and its significance are not. Meena is running away from people whose identities are as unclear as the reason for the five snakebites on her chest or the kreen that lives inside her—perhaps a snake, perhaps a demon. The story gets confusing as reality alternates with vivid hallucinations, but it's easy to shrug off the confusion and enjoy the wild ride. Byrne's wonderful imagination makes the trek across the open sea appear almost plausible, as Meena carries such items as desalinators, a protective pod and diapers cleaned by the sun. In vivid scenes, both women become intensely aware of their sexuality, an important aspect of their stories. The writing is often brilliant, as Byrne paints wholly believable pictures of worlds and cultures most Westerners will never know. Slightly less believable is the dramatic conclusion, even though Byrne does not stint on imagination. This is engrossing and enjoyable despite its minor flaws. Strong, appealing protagonists and an unusual plot make Byrne's literary invention well worth the reader's while.

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